The Ministry of Education’s curriculum review committee is reviewing the high-school Chinese history course guidelines.
The new outline is to adopt a theme rather than a chronological approach to history and divide the curriculum into four main categories: “How to understand the past,” “Taiwanese history,” “East Asian history” and “World history.”
It is also to stress discussion of topics such as Aborigines and the identities of countries that have been colonized. Although this has elicited the expected concerns over “desinicization,” the new course outline’s concern for ethnic and cultural diversity is praiseworthy.
Earlier this month, I attended an event marking the 15th anniversary of the publication of the 10-volume Myths and Legends of Taiwan’s Indigenous Peoples (台灣原住民的神話與傳說), where I listened to some of the people who had participated in the planning, production, writing and illustration of the books, including Control Yuan Vice President Sun Ta-chuan (孫大川), who had been in charge of their planning.
They shared their good and bad experiences during the making of this monumental work. In the warm and touching atmosphere, I felt as if I had experienced an enlightenment regarding indigenous culture or a revolution in Taiwan’s historical outlook.
For example, Academia Historica director and historian Wu Mi-cha (吳密察) — who at the time advocated the view that Taiwan’s history should begin with its Aborigines — in his opening address asked the audience how many Aborigines from Taiwan’s history they could name.
It felt like a surprise attack. Between surprise and shame, I suddenly started thinking about 1992, when many places around the world celebrated the 500th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’ “discovery of the new world.”
At the time, many people in the cultural sector thinking about history said that Columbus’ “discovery” was not a thing to be celebrated for the indigenous people living in the Americas: It was the beginning of hundreds of years of exploitation and plunder by the European colonialists.
They wanted people around the world to look at history with new eyes, treat the contact between the different civilizations on an equal basis and reflect on and remedy the resulting invasion and exploitation.
We must re-establish Taiwanese history in the same way.
From a historical point of view, Taiwan has been continuously colonized.
So that the rulers could bolster the legitimacy of their rule, the teaching of history in Taiwan has long been based on a view of history that focuses on the Han Chinese people.
For example, we are used to the idea that Taiwan’s history stretches back 400 years. This is typical of a Han-based view of history.
This view is absurd: Was there no human civilization in Taiwan prior to that?
At the event, Wu also mentioned that over the past 20 years, historiography in Taiwan has made great strides, and the most obvious proof of that is that Taiwanese history now finally includes Taiwan’s Aborigines.
Indeed, history requires constant reflection and rewriting. From seemingly not having played any role at all in Taiwan’s history, Taiwan’s Aboriginal population has now become a supporting actor.
If we want to move beyond the “400 years of Han history” outlook, we should try to move even further and make Taiwan’s Aborigines the lead actor.
Hung Hao-tang is a freelance writer
Translated by Perry Svensson
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